Regaining Life: Plastic Surgery Helps Disfigured Veterans

Mike Wilton

by Mike Wilton | May 27, 2011 @ 08:00AM

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As we wrap up the week leading into Memorial Day weekend, we as a nation are reminded of those who have fallen while serving our country, but as we look back on those who have lost their lives we should also look to those who have lost life as they once knew it.

Many of the soldiers fighting battles for our country return home with wounds that aren’t necessarily fatal, but are life changing.  Their wounds leave them scarred, disfigured, and many times suffer loss of body parts.  While the military provides initial surgeries to close wounds, prosthetics for lost limbs, and grafts to restore burned flesh, many surgeries are still needed to assist veterans in restoring their pre-war lives.

While many plastic surgeons step in to aid veterans, two larger organizations have partnered with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Armed Services. They offer reconstructive, aesthetic surgical procedures to help them regain a sense of normalcy in their lives without the loneliness and isolation of disfiguring wounds.

The Iraq Star Foundation

Army Veteran Kevin DownsFounded in February 2004 by Maggie Lockridge RN, the Iraq Star Foundation is comprised of 254 Board Certified Plastic and Reconstructive surgeons in 43 states.  The organization provides wounded and disfigured soldiers of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars with free reconstructive surgery.  While many veterans face lengthy waiting lists for reconstructive surgery, the Iraq Star Foundation helps to treat those suffering from the loneliness and isolation of disfiguring wounds.

Recently, Army Veteran Kevin Downs was referred to Iraq Star by Retired Army Ranger Col. Danny McKnight, the Ranger who inspired both the book and subsequent film, “Blackhawk Down.”  Kevin was wounded in Tikrit, Iraq in August of 2005, at the age of 21, when an IED struck his vehicle in which he was a gunner.  Kevin lost both legs, the use of his left hand, suffered major trauma to his face, and lost the tip of his ear.

On February 28, 2011, Dr. George Burruss of Memphis, TN, an Iraq Star volunteer surgeon, performed full thickness graft reconstructive surgery to Kevin's right cheek.  Kevin was then referred to Matt Singer of Memphis who creates silicone replicas of ears, noses, chins, to receive a new ear tip. Though he is scheduled to undergo more facial reconstruction later this year, the Iraq veteran is proud of his new appearance.

Operation Mend

Founded in 2007 through a partnership between the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, and the guidance of philanthropist Ronald A. Katz, Operation Mend treats U.S. military personnel who are severely wounded during service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Led by Timothy A. Miller, M.D., Chief of the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at UCLA and military veteran, Operation Mend has treated 43 patients as of February 2011.  Beginning with Marine Corporal Aaron P. Mankin in August of 2007, the program has gone on to see 16 participants from the Marines, 23 from the Army, one from the Air Force, one from the Army National Guard, and two from the U.S. Navy.  Many of their stories can be read on Operation Mend’s Meet Our Wounded Warriors page, these stories and the patient before and after photos are not for the faint of heart.

As you’re enjoying your long weekend, I ask you to remember those who have lost their lives as well as those who have had their lives altered fighting for our country.  If you’re interested in helping either organization you can visit or the support Operation Mend page to make a donation. 

If you or someone you know has suffered injuries during military service and feel you may be a candidate for either service, you can contact both The Iraq Star Foundation and Operation Mend with the information below:

The Iraq Star Foundation
Phone: (760) 568-4039

Operation Mend
UCLA Operation Med Coordinator Melanie Gideon
Phone: (310) 794-8161

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